Historical Overview on the Rules of Protocol and Etiquette

We start with a historical overview about how the terms Protocol and Etiquette spread among people and ancient civilizations and how they have developed over the years. Studies on international relations among ancient nations reveal that there were commonly accepted conventional practices being followed. These relationships were guided by rules, principals and standards that were created as a result of negotiations led by envoys who were sent for the exchange of diplomatic messages.

These civilizations practised many different manners of the standards associated with Protocol and Etiquette. Several examples are given below:

  • The diplomatic relations that existed between Egypt and Babel, which started in 1450 B.C., included highlights on the application of standards for Protocol and Etiquette that were related to both diplomatic immunities as well as receptions and ceremonies.
  • In the ancient cities of Greece, there was a significant spread of Protocol and Etiquette standards especially associated with the immunity of ambassadors and to the principals of managing their affairs. The same was evident even later during the Roman era, in both the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople (also known as the Byzantium Empire).
  •   In Arabia, during and following the Umayyad Caliphate era, there were protocols for rulers and ministers. In the first Abbasid period, Al Jahiz wrote his famous book "Principles of Communication with Kings" (altaj fi akhlaq elmelouk) which included information on how to receive, greet, sit, talk and eat with kings. It also contained the etiquettes of messengers and envoys and guidelines for the king's reception of the public during feasts.
  • With the aim of improving diplomatic and social relationships, Protocol and Etiquette practices have recently adopted simplicity and practicality, moving away from old, rigid and overstressed customs while still maintaining basic rules and civility. In addition, these standards are no longer limited to diplomats as they have extended to ordinary people as well.

Compared to other countries, Europe gave a lot more importance to Protocol and Etiquette rules and was more involved with developing standards to govern their practice while improving and developing them further over time. This was the scenario in Europe until finally all countries worldwide agreed on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in 1815 and the Aix-la-Chapelle Protocol in 1818 which consisted of all the applicable rules for this field. The 1961 Vienna Convention reaffirmed what was composed in the first Vienna Convention of 1815. In 1963, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was established to organize the exchange of consular missions among countries and to highlight the duties, rights, precedence, privileges, and immunity of consular delegates.

About the Vienna Conventions (1961-1963)

The Vienna Conventions (1961-1963) represented a notable shift in the course of work of diplomatic and consular sectors especially on the grounds of organizing relations among countries. The conventions established clear principles for these relations thus exceeding those previously stated under the Vienna Convention of 1815. They set the ranks and status of political delegates and diplomatic agents and prevented competitiveness amongst them in the Order of Precedence. The 1961 Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations assured that its most important purpose is to ensure that diplomatic missions perform their best as representatives of their countries.

The Convention has 52 articles that regulate all aspects of diplomatic relations among countries worldwide. The first Article assigns certain meanings to expressions and terms used for the purpose of the Convention such as ‘head of the  mission’, ‘members of the mission’, ‘members of the staff of the mission’, ‘members of the diplomatic staff’, 'diplomatic agent' and other expressions. The Third article states the functions of a diplomatic mission. Article (18) addresses the procedures to be observed at each State or country for the reception of heads of missions in respect of their class.  Article (21) requires that the receiving State or country facilitate the necessary accommodation or acquisition of territory for the sending State to carry out its mission. Article (22) stipulates that the premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

Article (31) maintains that the diplomatic agent should enjoy judicial immunity except in special cases. Additionally, he/she cannot be forced to make his/her testimony. Article (34) mentions that diplomatic agents are exempted from all personal, public or private fees and taxes, with some exceptions in certain areas and districts. Article (41) of the Convention confirms that, without prejudice, the members of the mission should respect the laws and regulations applicable in the receiving State/ host country. They must also abstain from obligations and involvement with regard to the internal affairs of that State.

Concluded in 1963, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations represented a new step towards the enhancement of international relations in the consular field. This Convention consisted of 74 articles focusing on the different aspects of consular functions in detail. Article (1) includes the relevant definitions; Article (3) explains the exercise of consular functions; Article (5) shows the consular duties and responsibilities and Article (9) points to the classes of heads of consular posts.

One of the aspects also covered in Article (16) of this Convention, is the precedence among the heads of consular posts. Article (24) gives details regarding the notification of the receiving State/ host country for the appointment and termination of members of the consular post. Article (31) covers aspects regarding consular premises. Article (35) includes the freedom of communication requiring that the receiving State /host country permit and accept this type of freedom for official purposes of the delegations. Article (49) addresses the exemption of Consular Officers and employees from taxes. Article (50) discusses their exemption from customs duties and inspection. Article (70) elaborates on the consular functions exercised by diplomatic missions. Article (72) highlights that for the proper application of the Convention's provisions, the receiving State should not discriminate among States/ countries.

The League of Arab States Covenant (1945):

If Vienna Conventions (1961-1963) represented a major step towards the enhancement of Diplomatic and Consular relations worldwide, the League of Arab States Covenant represented a similar step among Arab nations. Relevant and common Arab customs became chronicled before and after the Covenant's publication. The Covenant consists of an introduction, 20 articles and 3 annexes.

Annex (1) addresses the Palestinian issue and ensures the right of the League of Arab States to elect a delegate to represent Palestine and take part in the League's activities until Palestine becomes independent. Annex (2) relates to the cooperation with the occupied Arab States who are not members in the League Council. Annex (3) gives details regarding the appointment of the minister delegated in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the first Secretary General of the League of Arab States for two years. The introduction undertakes that the respective countries approve charters to enhance the relations and ties of Arab States within a framework that respects the independence, sovereignty and common interest of Arab States.

On March 22, 1945, the Covenant was signed by the delegates of Arab nations except for KSA and Yemen who signed the charter much later. This day became the anniversary of the League of Arab States.

Alexandria Protocol represented the most important instrument that was used for the establishment of the Charter or Covenant of the League of Arab States. The political subcommittee that was recommended to be formed under the Alexandria Protocol, together with the delegates of Arab States who signed the Alexandria Protocol, participated to prepare this Charter. The committee also included delegates of KSA and Yemen while delegates from the Palestinian parties attended as supervisors. After sixteen meetings held at the headquarters of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from 17 February to 3 March 1945, the Charter draft was finalized. The Charter was approved on March 19, 1945 at Zaafaran Palace, Cairo after having added the relevant amendments. Following is an overview on the most important principles included in the Protocol:

  • The League of Arab States shall be established with independent Arab States as members who accepted to join it. This League shall have a Council in which the member states shall be represented equally.
  • Duties of the League's Council are to consider the execution of agreements of member states, hold periodical meetings to enhance the relevant relations, coordinate the political plans to achieve cooperation, maintain the League's independency and sovereignty from any attacks using political means, and considering the affairs of Arab states in general.
  • The Council's decrees shall be binding for those who approved it, except where there are cases of conflict between two member states, in which case it shall be directed to the Conflict Resolution Council for settlement. In these scenarios, the Council's decrees shall be binding and effective.
  • Resorting to power and force to settle disputes between two member states is prohibited. This also applies to foreign policies which will have negative effects on the policy of the League or any member state.
  • Among each other, member states may enter into special agreements without conflict to these provisions.
  • Finally, members must respect and acknowledge the sovereignty and independence of the organizing states within their existing borders.
Definition of Protocol (Marasim- Tashreefat) and Etiquette

The terms Protocol (Marasim- Tashreefat) and Etiquette may have conflicting interpretations. Therefore, the researcher should consider the meaning of each word separately to understand the difference in connotation. Following is a brief definition and explanation of these terms:

(Protocol – Marasim)

Protocol is an English word which means ‘the code of correct conduct and principles of compliments as applicable in international occasions’, according to the Oxford Dictionary. It is originally a Greek word that was derived from the name of a tree whose leaves were glued to important agreements to indicate their content and application. Eventually, the word was used in the context of explaining how to behave and communicate diplomatically during official dialogues to reach mutual agreements, how to organize any event or occasion for this purpose, and how to manage the needs of guests and organizers.

The word (Marasim) is the Arabic word for Protocol and is used to refer to standards and procedures to be followed in mutual relations and associations amongst countries during different official events.

(Tashreefat - Etiquette)

Tashreefat is the Turkish translation of the English word Protocol (protocole in French) and the Arabic word Marasim. Etiquette is originally a French word that was used to refer to a paper slip or card that is placed on a package or bottle to indicate its contents. This word was also used to refer to the cards that were distributed to guests of Royal French palaces. The cards had instructions to comply with when meeting the King and other key figures of the palace such as princes and ministers. This was extended to include courts, official ceremonies and banquets.

Therefore, it is clear that all of these terms (Protocol, Marasim, Tashreefat, and Etiquette) have one common interpretation that represents the written and non-written rules and principles that help organize the manner of communication and exchange in different aspects of life.

Although these rules and standards are important, contemporary diplomacy in many countries has minimized their application thus moving away from old diplomacy practices which were dominated by complicated formalities. Today, simplicity is preferred over rigidity in most protocol standards.

Characteristics of a Successful Protocol Officer

A protocol officer should not only have knowledge, education, strong personality, presence of mind, and awareness of all matters relating to one's country (e.g. history and general knowledge), but should also be characterized by the following:

  • Having an expression that is pleasant and friendly;
  • Being presentable and well-groomed as this affects the first impression of others;
  • Having good conduct and manners when dealing with others;
  • Being courteous to others; offering appropriate compliments while avoiding exaggerations
  • Mastering one or two foreign languages (or English language, at least);
  • Having a flair for expanding ones knowledge and education;
  • Having team spirit;
  • Having the ability to make ongoing follow-ups;
  • Having the ability to prepare and plan ahead for various occasions;
  • Giving special attention to the update of the VIP lists including ministers, ambassadors and public officers; and
  • Abiding by administrative and positional ranks and hierarchy